The Western Conference semi-finals in the 2019 NBA Playoffs are set to feature a matchup between two of the NBA’s most talented squads, the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, with the four-game regular season series going the way of the Rockets 3-1. Houston made relatively quick work of the Utah Jazz en route to their 4-1 series victory, while Golden State seemed to struggle more in the six games they needed to put away the resilient Los Angeles Clippers. With the Rockets being led by guard tandem of reigning Most Valuable Player James Harden and passing maestro Chris Paul, the Rockets will have to play at their top form to match pace with perhaps the greatest starting line-up the league has ever seen in the Golden State Warriors’ all-star caliber cast of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
Notable of the heavy workload placed on the shoulders of James Harden is that it tends to take its toll throughout the postseason. Following leading the league in scoring with an average of 36.1 points per game during the regular season, but averaging nearly 37 minutes per game. Averaging 35.4 minutes per game last season, Harden showed the signs of wear that could be expected with his extended minutes during the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors, including performances where he shot 5 of 21 from the field with 0 of 11 from three in Game Five as well as shooting 12 of 29 and just 2 of 13 from three in the decisive Game Seven loss. If Harden can play to the peak of his abilities and the Rockets can avoid the worst case scenario injuries that took Chris Paul out of last year’s postseason, they may serve the biggest threat to the dominance of the Warriors.
The Warriors also have sustainability issues of their own, with the team already losing starting center DeMarcus Cousins to a torn quad in the first round matchup with the Clippers and some ankle injuries to their star backcourt. With the absence of Cousins, the Warriors all-star starting five is no longer intact, but they still possess the talent to bury any team in the league under a barrage of three-pointers. The true issue for Golden State now is their bench and if they can uphold their minutes when the starters come out. With players who have been first choice bench options in recent years, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala aren’t performing at the quality that they once brought to the Warriors, and their other options don’t match the quality of the bench options such as Gerald Green, Danuel House, and Austin Rivers that the Rockets have at their disposal.
Difference Maker: Chris Paul
Alongside the heavy-hitting offense that James Harden brings to the table, Houston features one of the greatest passers in the history of the game in Chris Paul. The Rockets best efforts collapsed last postseason with Paul injured his right hamstring, missing the final two games of the series against the Warriors, squandering a 3-2 lead in the process. With Paul suffering another hamstring injury earlier this season, it calls into question if the soon-to-be 34-year-old is still capable of producing the same sort of performances he put on earlier in his career over a prolonged stretch of time. Keep an eye on Chris Paul, who if on form gives the Rockets a considerably better chance to dethrone the defending champions.
Difference Maker: Kevin Durant
Simply put, the Rockets have no one who can guard Kevin Durant. Following closing out the Clippers Friday night, defensive stalwart Patrick Beverly and likely Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams told the media they didn’t know what to do to stop Durant as he laid to rest the hopes of the eighth-seeded Clippers with his 50 point onslaught. With both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson listed as questionable for Game 1, look for the former MVP Durant to carry as much weight as the Warriors need from him, and most likely prosper in the process.
The Warriors-Rockets match-up has all the potential to have the most offensive action of any series in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. With so many combustible elements on both sides, this series will be sure to be an entertainment spectacle that will highlight the long-range shooting and faced paced action that compromises the modern NBA. While the Rockets have the potential to take this series, expect Curry, Durant and Klay to pour buckets on this Rockets squad, with Draymond Green hindering anyone he’s put in front of on the defensive end. Ultimately, the strengths of the Warriors will be too much for Harden, Paul and company, even without Cousins to slow down Houston Center Clint Capela inside. Expect the Rockets to take some games but falter here, barring any further injuries to the Warriors.
Prediction: 4-2 Warriors
2019 NBA Playoffs TV Schedule: Warriors vs Rockets
Game 1: Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors- 4/28, 3:30 pm ET, ABC.
Game 2: Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors- 4/30, 10:30 pm ET, TNT.
Game 3: Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets- 5/4, 8:30 pm ET, ABC.
Game 4: Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets- 5/6, 9:30 pm ET, TNT.
Game 5 (if necessary): Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors- 5/8, time and channel TBD.
Game 6 (if necessary): Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets- 5/10, time and channel TBD.
Game 7 (if necessary): Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors- 5/12, time and channel TBD.